I awoke to my mother repeatedly yelling in desperation, “Bob! Wake up! Wake up, Bob!”
It was a snowy Thanksgiving morning. I rubbed my eyes and quickly jumped out of bed, faster than I've ever done anything in my life. I gulped down fear, as I rushed to find out what was happening.
I ran into my parent’s room and found my mom screaming and crying over my dad’s body.
It looked as though he was sleeping, but closer inspection showed white foam dripping from his blue lips. I saw my sisters crying by the bed, and my brother in panic mode, dialing 911.
It happened so fast. I can’t remember what happened between my entering the room and the paramedic’s arrival. I recall one of them telling my mom he was dead upon their arrival. She refused to believe it; he was wrong.
Once they were in the ambulance, they were able to get my dad on machines and his organs pumping again, but they would never pump on their own again. That night was his last, as they all shut down, one by one.
My father died on Thanksgiving night of a heart attack. He was 43 years old, and left behind his wife and four children, who, at the time, were 21, 18, 14 and 10 years old.
It is very hard for any child to accept the death of his or her father, especially when it was unexpected and everyone was so young. Everyone deals with death differently; my family is a prime example. We all grieved in different ways, some of us still visibly grieving, six years later.
As a freshman in college at a school two and a half hours away from home, I truly struggled. Not only was I having a year of so many firsts already, facing it without one of the most influential and important people in my life was unfathomable.
A few months later, my first relationship ended and I was very sick for three months with Mono. I couldn't help but feel like my world was quickly falling apart. I was experiencing more emotions in one year than I had ever felt in my lifetime.
I could not seem to make sense of anything that was happening in my life.
But, I got through it, and now, six years later, I look back at all the moments in my life when I felt like I couldn't go on and smile on them because they've made me strong and they were raw. Life is raw, real and will make you feel every emotion — and that is okay.
Below are the six things I learned to do in life, which helped me to survive the past six years:
1. Never take the people or things in your life for granted.
This is very clichéd, I agree, but that doesn't make it any less valid.
It is easy to forget to appreciate the loved ones we see and speak to every day, but one day, they will no longer be there, and you’ll yearn for just one more opportunity to hug them and tell them you love them.
The same goes for everything you have in life; you never know when your life will change, and you may not have a roof over your head or a hot meal to eat.
Be grateful and humble for everyone and everything you have because nobody knows what the future holds.
2. Let go.
Truly let go of anger, regret, fear and sadness — anything holding you down.
Whatever it may be, it will do nothing but hold you back from opportunities and moving forward in life. By letting go, you are taking control of your life rather than letting your emotions control you.
3. Surround yourself with people — good people.
I cannot stress this one enough because I would have never survived anything I've gone through in my life without the friends and family who were by my side through it all.
Everyone needs someone, whether it is a best friend, a significant other or a sibling. It doesn't matter who your people are, just make sure you have them and you let them in.
You will know who the good ones are. Cut the toxic people out of your life early because they will only bring you down.
4. Don’t be afraid to feel.
Throughout life, you will be pushed to your limits, and each time, it will feel like it can’t possibly get any worse, but more often than not, it will. It is important to not let these times destroy you or define you, but rather, to help you to grow.
I couldn't understand for a very long time what feeling this pain that never really goes away has done for me, but I eventually realized it has taught be to be strong, humble and bold. The pain is a part of me now, and it always will be.
5. Remember people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
People will die; people will leave, and sometimes, they just decide they no longer want to be in your life anymore. Whatever it may be, it is important to remember that there is a purpose for each person who enters and exits your life.
6. Don’t forget to live.
I have not felt more alive than when I stepped outside of my comfort zone to do things I wouldn't have normally done. After my father passed away, I promised myself I wouldn't continue to live my life in the background; I would do substantial things with my life and make every moment count.
I felt this as I jumped off a waterfall in Ithaca the summer before my junior year of college when I decided to move to upstate New York for the summer.
I felt this when I was on top of the world on the ledge of a boulder in the middle of Lake Cumberland, KY, the summer I decided to get 14 people together and rent a houseboat for a week. My point is that these experiences kept me going, and the memories you create will remain in your heart forever.
You only get one life; live it and love it to the fullest of your ability, and don’t let the hard times break you.